Chronic pain affects more people than you might think. Pain Awareness Month raises awareness for this important issue.
For those who suffer from chronic pain, daily life can be a struggle. Consistent pain can disrupt concentration, interfere with sleep, and even lead to depression and anxiety. To complicate matters, many of the prescription medications used to treat severe pain are addictive. The American Chronic Pain Association introduced Pain Awareness Month in 2001 to raise awareness for issues related to chronic pain and pain management.
We are recognizing Pain Awareness Month this September by sharing what it means to suffer from chronic pain, how to recognize addiction to pain medication, and when to seek help.
Understanding Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts for 12 or more weeks. Chronic pain affects about 50 million Americans, or 20% of the population. Startlingly, the majority of Americans will experience it at some point in their lifetime. As many as 84% of adults will suffer from an episode of chronic back pain, and nearly 50% will experience chronic headaches.
Chronic pain develops in a number of ways. A relatively “simple” injury might cause lingering pain long after it heals. Likewise, pain following a routine surgery might persist longer than expected. Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia can also lead to chronic pain, as can depression, TMJ, IBS, and neuropathy from other conditions.
Notably, chronic pain is not consistent, which can make it difficult to diagnose. Those who suffer may not feel acute pain everyday, and not all cases of chronic pain continue for life. For many who suffer, however, the impacts go far beyond acute pain.
Chronic pain contributes to disrupted sleep, difficulty concentrating, reduced mobility and isolation. The ongoing pain can make it difficult to get out of bed, shower, work, and even eat. The frustration and loss of mobility often leads to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Managing Chronic Pain
Doctors treat chronic pain in a number of ways. Depending on the cause and type and severity of pain, common treatments might include anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants. Opioids, a drug closely linked to addiction, are also commonly prescribed.
Although we now know much more than in years past about the addictive nature of opioids, it has not always been common practice for doctors and hospitals to discuss the possibility of addiction with patients. In many situations, patients realized the long-term impact of these powerful drugs too late.
Unfortunately, stopping opioid addiction isn’t as simple as stopping opioid prescriptions. Since many patients can often safely take opioids for short-term pain, doctors still find that medications like Vicodin and OxyContin work best for post-surgical pain. For patients suffering from severe acute pain, doctors may feel they have no better option.
Balancing the need to treat severe pain with the risk of drug addiction is challenging, but events like Pain Awareness Month can help. The better-informed people are about the long-term impact of opioids, the better prepared they will be to recognize early signs of addiction.
With greater awareness, patients are also more likely to seek alternative ways to manage their pain. A skilled medical provider can recommend a combination of medication, therapy, topical treatments, lifestyle changes and occupational therapy to help patients cope with ongoing pain. Asking about every available option can help those who suffer from chronic pain become less reliant on medication alone.
How to Get Help for Drug Addiction
If you or a loved one has become addicted to painkillers, it is important to seek professional assistance. Withdrawal from certain medications, such as opioids, can be severe, and may require a medically assisted detox. Many detox clients then need supervised inpatient treatment to address physical dependence. Some treatment centers can help clients further manage pain with massage, chiropractic care and acupuncture. In nearly every case, clients will benefit from aftercare and behavioral counseling where they can develop healthy ways to manage pain.
Friends and family can support loved ones by supporting their decision to seek professional treatment, showing empathy for the difficulties of suffering from chronic pain, and simply becoming a sounding board. The American Chronic Pain Association offers a number of online resources for better understanding a loved one in pain.
Get Involved with Pain Awareness Month
You can help generate awareness for chronic pain and fight the stigma attached to prescription drug addiction by sharing information about Pain Awareness Month or even your own story on social media. Use the hashtags #LetsTalkAboutPain, #PAM2019 and #PainAwarenessMonth to help people interested in Pain Awareness Month find your message.
To get even more involved, you can attend an online event hosted by the U.S. Pain Association, or use the American Chronic Pain Association’s toolkit to communicate with local government officials. Each time you raise awareness about chronic pain and the difficulties in treating it, you inspire greater empathy for those who suffer.
If you suspect that you or someone you love is among the 1.7 million Americans who have experienced addiction to prescription drugs as a result of chronic pain, know that you are not alone. Call the number below to speak with an intake specialist about taking the first step toward freedom. The support of experienced medical staff and nurturing clinicians will not only help you break free from prescription drug addiction, but will also help you develop healthy coping strategies and a long-term solution to treat your chronic pain.